Friday, January 25, 2019

Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery S2E2 "New Eden"

Spoilers spoilers!

Episode 2 does a good job of setting in motion whatever it is this season is going to be about. Wow, that sounded extremely vague though. To recap, Discovery has started to investigate some mysterious signals and Christopher Pike of TOS reference is the captain. Last episode ends with us finding out that Spock is up to something, and this episode pretty much begins with us finding out what that is.

It turns out that Spock has somehow known about these signals long before they were picked up by the Federation, and Burnham finds out he decided to go into a mental institution because of it. Before they can go and talk to Spock about how he knows about the signals, they find another one. This one is in the Beta Quadrant however and they realize it would take them generations of time to get there. If only they had something that allowed them to jump anywhere in the galaxy instantly? Hmmm…

Stamets was about to leave last episode but has now changed his mind. He wanted to leave because everything reminded him of Hugh, now he wants to stay because he thinks Hugh might be somewhere in the spore drive, or something. Either way, they jump to where the signal is and find an Earth-like planet with actual humans on it. There is also a distress call coming from the planet that they somehow can hear has been running for 200 years. But that's longer than humanity has been able to use the warp-drive?! How did the humans get there? Also, when they look down there they don't see anyone who seems to be in distress.

Aliens, that's how. Or at least it's heavily insinuated. Pike first decides that because the humans are pre-warp, the Prime Directive is in effect. Or Operational Directive 1 as he calls it (I think that's what he said). Burnham disagrees and this turns into an interesting discussion, which I will say more about further down. He secondly decides that they need to take an away-team down to the surface to find out what is up with the distress call so he goes with Burnham and Owosekun. Finally we get to see some more of someone from the bridge.

When they get to the surface they go to the church-like building from where the signal comes and find that the people seem to be following some sort of mish-mash religion, using many of the main religions of Earth. When the people of the planet discover them, they pretend to be visitors from another territory, but one of the natives isn't so easily fooled. The away-team first takes part in an exposition heavy welcoming where we find out that their ancestors seem to have been brought to this planet, church and all, by some mysterious beings. 

Meanwhile Tilly tries to mine a bit of the meteor they harvested in the last episode but it turns out it has extreme gravity and is extremely volatile and almost kills her. Then the people back on Discovery also notice that there is going to be a massive radioactive fallout from the rings surrounding the planet, causing a planet wide extinction within the hour. Saru comes to the conclusion that this might have been what the signal was all about and they try to save the natives and the away team (which can't be beamed out because of interference). Tilly in sick bay has a discussion with some odd character about how to solve the situation and comes up with the idea to use the high-gravity meteor piece to pull all the of the ring away from the planet. In an extremely complicated and risky move they pull it off. Which means they don't have the meteor anymore, I guess?

As the away team rummage around the church basement to find out more about how the native humans got there, the suspicious native confronts them. He basically tells them he knows they're from a space ship, but Pike insists he's wrong. The native throws a stun grenade at them and then locks them in the basement and steals their technology. He uses this to try to convince the other natives that he is right, but they don't want to listen. The away team manages to get out of the basement and try to explain the situation. Then Pike gets mortally wounded by whatever the writer could come up with first an exploding phaser and they have to teleport out, witnessed by some of the natives. Diabolus ex machina?

Pike has a discussion with Burnham about the natives on the planet. Burnham is of the opinion that the people deserve to be brought into the fold of modern Earth, Pike means that they have split from Earths evolution and are on their own path. I find this to be an interesting discussion as we can see the same thing happening right here among us right now. We still have societies who are completely (or as much as you can be in these times) cut off from so called modern society, and the general opinion seems to be to leave them be. While I don't have an opinion one way or the other because I am simply not informed enough, I can definitely see arguments for bringing these people into modern healthcare and education. Are we depriving them of a full life? Who gets to decide what that even means? They haven't chosen not to be part of our society and modern amenities, as such, they don't even know of them. But once they do know of them, there is no going back. These people have never come into contact with many modern diseases, so there is of course a very real health risk, but it's still not an easy question I think. Either way we are making a decision on their behalf without knowing or even being able to find out what they would want.

They also mention "Clarkes third law", which is "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.". Apparently it has been re-worked into something about "any alien sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from God". I didn't quite understand the meaning of this scene though.

Burnham makes the argument that whatever the signals are about has precedence over the Prime Directive and it turns out Pike agrees because he decides to go back down to the surface to tell the suspicious native the truth. In return he gets camera footage saved from the original ascension ie abduction ie relocating of humans to a planet in the Beta Quadrant for mysterious reasons. The video footage really doesn't tell us anything they hadn't showed already in the episode already though.
We also find out that the weird character Tilly has been talking to is actually a long dead friend of hers. So is she also hallucinating? I say also because Burnham has already seen the weird angel-aliens that seemingly took the Terralysians (as the planet is called Terralysium) there and Stamets sees Hugh here and there.

Terralysium is nothing like this though.

Overall the episode has an interesting premise (how did humans end up tens of thousands of lightyears from Earth without warp and why?) but as usual it feels like they try to cram a lot into one episode. This isn't necessarily something out of the ordinary for Star Trek though. Some of the episode has some sloppy writing though. For instance to save the life on the planet from annihilation, Stamets has to get from the Bridge to the Spore Drive and jump in 2 minutes. There is just no way that can happen and it would've literally been as easy to fix as just say any other (larger) number. Why 2 minutes? Why not 10? It's sufficiently stressful and still believable.

It's also very oddly edited in places, with a lot of cutting back and forth between characters who are having conversations, panning shots of people and multiple shots of the same person in the same scene which just irks me. It's actually directed by Jonathan Frakes of Riker-fame and he has done some really good episodes so I don't know what happened here. 

I'm really liking Anson Mount's Christopher Pike though and the episode was entertaining enough. It was better for driving the bigger story-arch forward than the individual parts that took place within it , but it points towards something grander and more interesting that almost gave me The Expanse vibes. That is definitely not a bad thing.

And as we haven't gotten the latest season over here in Sweden, I need all the Expanse fix I can get.

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